Ask Ada: When Should I Tell The Person I’m Dating I Have An STD?

Plus: how to help a chronically ill person celebrate Christmas remotely!

Welcome to Ask Ada, Folks’ bi-weekly advice column for people impacted by health issues or disability. Want Ada to help you with a problem? Email Ada at or tag @folksstories on Twitter with the #askada hashtag.

When Should I Tell The Person I’m Dating I Have Herpes?

Dear Ada,

I’ve been living with herpes for 8 years now, and I take medication every day to prevent outbreaks. Being diagnosed was very hard for me. My spouse at the time had been cheating and that is how I was exposed to the virus. Worse — we had only been married for a few months when I got my first outbreak.

After my divorce, when I started dating, I was very honest with any potential sexual partner that was being treated for Herpes because I didn’t think it was fair to them to keep that from them. I can’t tell you how many people ghosted me and were horribly rude to me when they found this out. While I have been intimate with some people in this time, nothing really led to a long-term relationship. 

Recently, I’ve met someone who I can see a future with, and he says that he feels the same about me. Here’s the problem: we haven’t been intimate. I haven’t disclosed anything about my diagnosis, and I’m not sure I want to. I don’t want to ruin what we have. What’s my option here? Is it fair to keep this from him? I feel like I should absolutely tell him, but I’m worried he’ll ghost me like other men have. Help!

I find it interesting that you were willing to tell previous short-term sexual partners about your diagnosis, but you’re considering keeping it from someone you see a future with. Of course, I understand why — the way you were treated by other potential partners was terrible, and you’re worried about losing out on a relationship with someone you already care about.

But… you owe it to him to tell him the truth. And he owes it to you to respond in the way most natural to him.

Yes, he may respond poorly. He could be unaccepting, angry… even outraged. But you deserve to know his reaction either way, because however he responds, that is who he actually is. If he reacts badly, you should move on, because you deserve to find a person who will accept you exactly as you are. A man who will be spiteful or disappear is not worthy of your time, heart, or body.

But that’s just one possibility. The other is that he may respond with kindness and gratitude that you’ve been honest with him, recognizing that you’ve respected him enough to allow him to make his own decisions on whether he’s comfortable proceeding into an intimate relationship with you. You deserve to see that he isn’t like the others, and that your instinct and belief about his character is spot on. 

But, I want to point out that he may respond in between those two extremes. He may be calm, but cautious. He may react awkwardly, stumbling with his words or not knowing how to respond at all. He may want to take some time — alone — to think about it or do some research. Being unsure doesn’t make him a bad guy. It’s only fair of you to allow him to process this and let him make the decision on his own. 

It’s possible that after weighing all the options, he decides not to proceed in his relationship with you. But regardless of what he chooses, I want you to remember something: A herpes diagnosis doesn’t diminish you. You are worthy of love. You’re worthy of a satisfying sexual life with a person who cares for you. And you shouldn’t need to hide this facet of your life from someone who wants a future with you.

Right now, keeping this hidden places a huge weight on your shoulders. Release it. And have faith. There are millions of people in loving relationships who have herpes, and millions more who have chosen to live their lives with them. If you are patient, and honest with your partners and yourself, you will—eventually—be one of them.

My neighbor is chronically ill, and can’t see anyone this Christmas. How do I cheer her up?

How Do I Help A Chronically Ill Friend Celebrate Christmas?

Dear Ada,

My next door neighbor is mostly homebound, and I’m nervous about how she is managing this year. Usually she is very cheerful and upbeat. She’ll sometimes stop by for tea with my daughters or we’ll often have picnic dinners in each other’s yards, but with COVID-19, we’ve really just been talking over our fence. Also, I know she enjoys visiting her family for the holidays, which she isn’t doing this year. I can tell her mood is down, and I’d like to cheer her up since she’ll be celebrating alone, but I don’t want her to feel like we’re overstepping either. What can we do?

It’s so kind of you to think of your neighbor, and it sounds as if she’s experiencing quite a bit of change and isolation this year. Your instincts to cheer her up are spot on, and there’s a lot you can do to make her feel some joy in a year that’s unlike any in recent history.

Decorations play a large role in lifting my spirits. Even right now, I’m writing this right next to my tree, admiring ornaments that were collected in my younger days or handmade by my children. Can you bring the same joy to her surroundings? If she normally spends the holidays visiting with family members, she might not have items to decorate the inside or outside of her home. 

You don’t want to presume too much by decorating her own house for her. But you said you have a shared fence. Maybe you can string up some lights on it this year to make it extra festive? Or maybe your children could surprise her with some homemade popcorn garlands or paper snowflakes she can hang in her home — something cheerful, yet lightweight and won’t require future storage.

Either way, make sure to invite your neighbor to spend time with you during your celebrations, even if you’re just drinking hot chocolate on each side of the fence. If your neighbor is comfortable using a computer or other device, help her set up video conferencing so she can still spend time with her family. Make sure she knows you’re available if there’s any tech snags when she tries to connect. Use the same tech to conference her into your activities. Your children can still “invite her over” for a digital tea time.

If you already have a preexisting relationship, I can’t imagine how your neighbor would think you were overstepping. If anything, I worry that your neighbor will feel like she’s intruding on your plans and not be as willing to accept any invitations you sent her way — so be persistent!

Are you facing a problem that is being complicated by a health condition or disability? Folks’ advice columnist Erin Ollila wants to help. Email and tell us your problem.